pedal vs. peddle vs. petal

What is the difference between pedal and peddle?

The words pedal and peddle are both pronounced the same way: /ˈpɛdəl/.
The more common of the two is pedal. It is primarily a noun meaning “a lever worked by the foot,” originally referring to those on a pipe organ or piano, but now more commonly referring to those on bicycles. By extension, pedal can also function as a verb meaning “to operate or use the pedals (of something).” For example:
  • “For me, the trickiest part of playing the piano has been using the pedals correctly.”
  • “My new bike has clip-in pedals and requires special shoes to ride.”
  • “You’ll need to pedal faster than that if you want to keep up with me!”
Peddle can only ever be used as a verb, most often meaning “to travel around selling (something),” as in:
  • “Many different vendors peddle overpriced souvenirs outside the tourist site.”
  • “Our town prohibits people from soliciting or peddling their wares in residential areas.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

One way of remembering the difference between these two spellings is to associate the word peddle with the similarly spelled verb meddle (meaning “to intrude into or interfere with other people’s business or affairs”). When you try to peddle goods to someone, you are meddling with their decision to buy something. Olympic cyclists, on the other hand, pedal to win a medal.

What is the difference between pedal and petal?

One other word that causes confusion for some writers is petal, which is a noun meaning “one of the brightly colored parts of a flower that surround the reproductive organ.” For example:
  • “He ran his fingers tenderly across the petals of the roses.”
It has a very similar spelling as pedal, as well as a very similar pronunciation: /ˈpɛtəl/. In casual speech, the /t/ sound is commonly softened and pronounced quickly, sounding identical to a /d/ sound; this leads to the pronunciation of petal being the same as pedal, /ˈpɛdəl/, which adds to the confusion between the two spellings.
Just remember to pronounce pedal and petal carefully, and let that guide which spelling is correct to use.
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